New Research Shows How Titan’s Lakes Stratify: What Should You Know


Saturn’s moon Titan has lakes composed of ethane, nitrogen, and methane. The lakes experience density-driven stratification, creating layers similar to what we have here on Earth. How is this possible?

Titan’s lakes seem to stratify because of a strange chemical interaction between its atmosphere and surface liquids. New research emerges recently and brings essential new details about the phenomenon. Here is what you need to know. 

Titan’s Lakes Examined

Stratification usually happens when different parts of a lake have varying densities, with the less dense layer on top of the thicker layer. On our planet, lakes in temperate climates sometimes stratify into layers in the summer because the Sun heats the lake’s surface, causing the water to become less dense. It also forms a layer of warm water that just floats upon the colder water underneath. 

That density-influenced stratification can happen on Saturn’s moon Titan, too. But it can occur only due to the amount of atmospheric nitrogen that Titan’s surface liquids can dissolve, rather than the liquids warming up and growing. 

Steckloff, a Planetary Science Institute Research Scientist, released a statement about the lakes on Titan and the process of stratification. He said: “[…], are dynamic places that experience complex physical processes; they can stratify, overturn, and possibly erupt.”

More Liquids

Because liquid methane is not that dense as liquid ethane, it has been assumed for quite a while that Titan’s methane would float atop its liquid ethane. But, when methane’s affinity for atmospheric nitrogen kicks in, methane can dissolve enough nitrogen at low temperatures. It can then become denser than ethane.

Steckloff and his team discovered that behavior would inherently influence lake stratification at only a few degrees cooler than previously observed on Titan. 

Despite its harsh surface temperatures of approximately 90 Kelvin, Titan’s ability to host rivers, rain, and lakes can be compared to Earth. Future research will surely bring more insights about Titan’s peculiar features, so similar to our planet.

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